Monday, March 30, 2009
heh... in college, my band was called "37". we were a bizarre amalgamation of friends/musicians who just sort of congealed at bc in 1995. pete was a full on "marty friedman/jason becker/dream theater" progressive shred guitar player. hilary "the guy" was a d.c.-scene punk rocker who knew all of the epitaph catalog by heart and oscillated between several hairstyles that seemed to set him in a different dimension from his preppy college peers. i was a jazz/funk bassist who felt the need to inject at least 3 slap-solos into every song, to the chagrin of bandmates and audiences. at first we had no drummer, and we seriously played our first few shows with a programmable roland drum machine (who we introduced to the crowd as "roland"). later, we picked up brian norbert blaise binkowski, an indy rocker who fit nicely into our "no one fits at all" setup. we played a lot of shows (including a pair of epic ones at "the rat" in the month before it closed), released a tape (yes, a TAPE), and had a lot of fun. the name grew out of the fact that hilary and i were perpetually running into the number 37. that and the "37 dicks" scene from the movie "clerks". anyway, sorry for the diatribe.
this is one of the few yo-yo's that i've won (at least that holds any real significance to me).
during the end of the boom, steve brown was one of the only yo-yo players i had heard of (along with all of team proyo and a few of the thp kids, but i didn't remember their names at the time). steve was interesting because he didn't conform to the totally introspective, nerdy stereotype that the uninitiated first associate with yo-yoers. to call him a "punk" (even in the most positive sense) would still be pretty limiting, because steve's one of the most multi-faceted guys i know, and categories just seem to evaporate off of him. anyway, when i finally made my way back to "the scene" around 04, i was really happy to see him still riding the wave, leading the duncan crew, which he had transformed from a battleship being outpaced by the more agile boom-companies into an edgy and relevant force. when i was learning yo-yo as a y-camp counselor, duncan was so far behind, it had become a punchline. in the intervening years, due mostly to the success of steve's freehand (both the style and the yo-yo) and brilliant branding, it had developed a well-deserved legion of fans.
it's funny how one can be 25ish, and pretty well-balanced and intelligent, and still geek out about a totally regular person and act like they're a complete rock star. although i wouldn't use the term "man-crush" per se, i was pretty taken aback when steve e-mailed me out of the blue one day in 06. as i remember, it was a pretty innocuous question about bass gear, but it generated a series of conversations that developed into a surprising friendship (not like "best buds" and tandem-bikes, but as two people who could commiserate on music, kids, comics, and on being geriatric as far most yo-yoers were concerned). we shared enough similarities to make sense to one another, but enough differences to still be interesting (ok at least i felt like that). although he was one of the guys that really shook yo-yoing up, i really appreciated his knowledge of and respect for the yo-yoing of the past, and he was a major influence in my gravitation toward responsive, fixed axle yo-yo's.
anyway, this would have been right around the time that steve left duncan amidst tumult and uproar (as is his wont). almost immediately thereafter, it seemed, he was whisked away to asia with the yoyofactory guys doing all manner of f.a.s.t. demos. shortly after he returned, yyf was hard at work designing the g5 (the first ideas for which, if i remember correctly, were sketched out on a napkin by ben and hans during the trip), and it was clear that steve would be a central piece of the yyf puzzle. i had known that he had nothing but glowing praise for the 401k, and in january of the next year, he showed me the side-art for what would be his signature yo-yo (the "fb.one", which was never realized). he said that while he loved what the factory was doing, he needed something with a small bearing if he was going to come out of "retirement" and compete again in 5a, the style he invented.
as 07 pushed on, yyf announced a contest called "tricked out", built around its flagship yo-yo, the g5. participants were to create tricks using the g5's free-spinning hubstacks, which while amazing, clearly weirded most yo-yoers out to the point that they simply ignored them. in the first few months following the g5's release, the renaissance of innovation that steve had implied would take place just hadn't materialized. the g5 was such a solid 1a yo-yo, that the hubstacks had remained little more than an under-utilized "extra" which, aside from pull-starts, users were blissfully ignoring. in effort to change that, the "tricked out" contest would award 3 winners: best overall trick, most views, and peoples' choice. each would receive their choice of yo-yo's from the yyf vault. i came up with a pretty run-of-the-mill top-tip trick i called "mess with the bull" (basically making a "bull" or "666" sign and grinding the tips between your index and pinky). it was an easy trick, and i thought i had no prayer. my norweigian pal (and fellow skater, though MUCH better than me), pekka won best overall with a sick 'hacky-sack' trick, dropping the yo-yo to spin on his foot, before kicking it back up to his palm. bemis advertised his trick brilliantly on yoyonation and was way ahead of everyone on views. the only chance i had was peoples' choice, and for whatever reason, people voted for me. i still have no idea why (here's the original vid, btw).
the same day that ben emailed me to tell me i won (his name registering in my email as "pedro flores") and to ask me to "choose my prize", steve confided that he'd be getting a small bearing signature 888 in black hardcoat WITH some of his tattoos engraved around the outside. i immediately replied to ben with an innocuous (though transparent) request: "well... do you have anything small bearing... and black?" predictably, he replied saying they had something in the works but it would be a few weeks, and did i mind waiting? of course i didn't. in the intervening weeks, i visited steve in va beach, where he was performing on the main drag for the summer. i tried out his pre-pro loop 720s and was flabbergasted when he revealed the ingenius response system. he also let me know (amidst much hooting and laughter) that yyf was creating red "dice hubstacks", both as an homage to steve's 5a, and as a means of circumventing duncan's counterweight patent. the original plan was to be able to string the two halves of the dice together to form a counterweight (which would really have stuck it to duncan). in the end, however, the dice were a brilliant, but purely aesthetic addition.
unbeknownst to me, there developed a real problem with the hardcoat process, and no more than a dozen of the small bearing steve brown 888's were produced (aking this one of the rarest yo-yo's i own), one of which arrived at my door about a month later. they had some large bearing ones for sale at worlds that year, but the black ano can't touch the hardcoated ones that were never made again. i met ben at that contest, and, in addition to the dice stacks he tossed me a red and black f.a.s.t. yo-yo holster "to match my yo-yo". ben talks loudly, both online and off, and his manner can seem brash and intimidating. however, his generosity just never ceases to amaze me.
steve used his 888 to freestyle that year. although 5a had taken on a life of its own, and was being pushed forward in new directions by many of yo-yoing's top innovators, steve had intimated that very few people (less than 5) actually "got" his original intentions for it. his big reason for being excited over the yyf hubstacks was his ability to use them to get closer to his original goal (which i will not describe in detail here). his hubstack freestyle was insane. INSANE. and if memory serves, he was sick as stink when he did it. as he predicted, most people couldn't look at it and appreciate how difficult it was, or its potential to change things. they still don't, and that's a shame. he actually posted it online a few weeks before the contest so that judges could see it and at least try to think through how the'd score it. it just wasn't the same 5a as most everyone else's. he walked through pieces of it with me in virginia, and though i'm not a freehand player, it was so ambidextrous, and so reliant on impossible pinch-catches, it was hard to imagine him "going clean". he didn't, and it was hard to be bitter over my other good friend, tyler severance winning the division. i know steve was disappointed, but it remains, in my eyes, one of the most innovative contest freestyles ever, but the most innovative stuff doesn't always reveal itself clearly or immediately, and certainly doesn't always win. 2 years later, people still don't understand it or its significance.
maybe it IS just "man crush residue" talking, but i certainly associate this yo-yo with steve, with the concepts that underpin that freestyle, and with the potential still just sitting there waiting to be exploited.
steve brown's 07 worlds freestyle
Friday, March 27, 2009
they're everywhere. i guess they always have been, but lately, the yo-yoing community has taken a turn for the more factious, and the negative aspects of this species have become more apparent.
i received this particular yo-yo for xmas in 2006. from my MOM.
my mom [who has never in her life visited the yyn forum (to her great personal advantage, probably)] logged on to the store site in effort to buy me a yo-yo for xmas. she knew i liked yo-yo's and that i had some metal ones, so she didn't mind shelling out. she said she chose "the peak" because she thought it was the prettiest, and the mountain graphic reminded her of the tetons, which we visited often throughout my youth.
the peak's release was noteworthy, in part because, after months of online thread-hype, it sold out in a matter of minutes, and became the first in a series of cathartic server-crashes that have riled yoyonation f5-mashers for the past few years. how hilarious is it that my mom just happened to waltz in during the frenzy and snag a peak without actually "caring" about what she got me? i think she must be the only person to have bought a peak (or any caribou yo-yo) without actually premeditating her purchase or giving a shit about it. cool!
when i opened the peak, i was stunned. both by my mom's inadvertant achievement (of which she was, of course, blissfully and endearingly ignorant), but also by the yo-yo. the peak was a small-release project by the hitherto-unknown chris mikulin (c-foam on yyn). at the time, he was affiliated with g-string's paul wallace, but said partnership has since disintegrated, as so many do. the peak was unique among yo-yo's due to its painted, airbrushed finish. chris had employed an immensely talented local artist named levi mccarroll to emblazon a bright blue mountain icon over an austere white background. rather than go for the ever-popular laser-engraved art, chris opted to hand-write the logos and serial numbers in fat silver sharpie on one side. mine sported "clyw peak #16". although at first, i found this to be a little "bootleg", steve brown actually helped me realize that, in a world of "over-produced" yo-yo's and art, this actually had an organic appeal that worked. in any case, the overall effect was so visually striking that this first run of painted peaks became insanely sought-after, immediately following their release. as a well-machined yo-yo with a firm bearing seat and deep silicone grooves, it also played incredibly well. (though honestly, i believe it could have played at a much lower standard and still have been wildly popular on looks alone.) mine remains pretty pristine, but for a few chips alex berenguel gave it at worlds one year, when he used it as his freestyle alternate. i subseuently covered them with white out (really) and teflon nail polish. another time, it fell from my pocket as i was getting out of the car. the dirt and schmutz that were pushed into the tiny dings have been impossible to fully remove, but i'm ok with that. if i were a yo-yo, i wouldn't want to be "mint".
bidding wars on the b/s/t forums pushed the peak's after-market value into the $400+ realm in the ensuing months, and since any $400 yo-yo MUST be incredible, a proper army of clyw fanboys emerged, augmented exponentially by the release of the bear vs. man the following year. these guys seemed to convert to the "church of clyw" overnight, and it's no coincidence that yyn's server issues were exacerbated by the company's subsequent releases. bear in mind, chris is a good friend, and i LOVE that his company is popular. it's a well-branded company that puts out well-made yo-yo's, and it deserves to be popular, but from my perspective, this fanboyism hasn't so much to do with clyw's (or any company's) positive attributes as it does with peoples' negative ones.
as i see it there are two types of fanboys. one sort, consisting mainly of children (and i do not actually mean that as a derrogation), seems to gravitate toward a yo-yo brand in the desperate attempt to hang on to something. they enter into this maelstrom of opinion and product and aesthetic that is the yo-yo community, and it's more than a little terrifying. they feel that they must find something greater than themselves to identify with, or else be utterly lost in the dissonant cacaphony. i feel for these kids, because for the most part, the're just seeking an in; just seeking inclusion, and their empty attempts to cling to one or another company as the be-all and end-all must be forgiven. they put the "boy" in fanboy, and mostly all of us have been there in some capacity, and at some point.
the second style of fanboy i find more dangerous, and infinitely more repugnant. unlike their youthful and innocent counterparts, these guys are often older and cleverer. they latch on to a product or company NOT just to belong, but to acquire. by association, they seek to become "that clyw guy" or "that 888 guy" or what-have-you. they allign themselves with this or that brand (and just as often AGAINST one or more others) and they sit back and imagine that they're doing something positive for the community by having 12 of a given metal. the unfortunate side-effect is that in alligning themselves with the one, they effectively cut ties with most, if not all others.
the result is that the "community" is divided. it undergoes a kind of mitosis and splinters into several different competing niches, which leaves everyone arguing. in addition to a "clyw fanboy", you can also be a "yyf fanboy", a "one drop fanboy" (which has, itself given rise to a backlash of "yyn fanboys") or a "duncan fanboy". there are even "yomega fanboys" out there who seem like all they want in the world is to be the last surviving die-hard yomega fan so that, dear lord SOMEONE will associate them with SOMETHING, ANYTHING! in a sense, it doesn't matter WHAT they like, so much as THAT they like. the object of their affection is, in fact, an OBJECT, being manipulated not so much out of joy, but from a desire to have their online identity amplified, as if from a bullhorn. *shudder*
so you get angry threads about scalpers who sell peaks for $250 (which people snap up in a trice). you get jerks who obsess over whether this or that design is uniquely original. you get jabs over every variable of play and aesthetic. everyone's rallying around their chosen standard, but it's all war-cries and no battles.
i'm particularly confused by the current "one drop fanboy-vs.-the-world" firework-display that seems to light up the boards every week or two. if you read my 'project' blog, you know that i was kinda rankled by the way the one drop/yyn drama went down (and which, according to the "observer effect" i guess i also had a hand in). i can't deny my bias, and i'm not trying to. i still think the project is a great yo-yo, but man... the "one drop fanboys" just slay me. i've been linked to their forums by several friends on several occasions and 90% of it just seems like this incestuous little party wherein the members (more than the company itself, mind you) glorify the mighty one drop totem and bemoan all the "bad guy" companies. for the record, i think david, with whom i've dialogued just a bit, generally does a pretty fair job of trying to walk the line on his forums. he tries to rep his company positively, but the masses that clamor over the "evil empires" of yoyofactory and yoyonation just don't do him many favors. they're not alone; one drop fanboyism is just easy to single out, because they sort of "went off on their own", at least in so far as the community perceives it. so their forum is obviously populated with zealous one drop lovers. no problem there whatsoever, except what are they going to talk about after awhile? there's only so much you can praise two yo-yo's and hype an imminent third before the conversation will shift inexorably toward other companies, and often in a divisive context. (every time i write about one drop, i'm aware that i comes off as all embittered, but in this case, it's not the company that bothers me at all. they're doing their thing. anyway, i know they won't be too miffed because, "i'm talking about them, right?")
oh, btw... did i mention that i have 25 no jives? i guess i'm a fanboy (we can smell our own). i like to think that since tom kuhn custom yo-yo's is, effectively, a relic of the past (they're certainly not making any new no jives), my fanboyism is reasonably innocuous. but it's still there. i find it's really liberating for my favorite yo-yo to be pretty much defunct. i don't worry over new releases. there's no "team" to get on. since tk isn't competing with modern yo-yo's, it's not like i'm compelled to trash on other companies (all evidence to the contrary). and bear in mind, i didn't select no jives arbitrarily. i had to yo-yo for a decade before i realized what i actually like to play, and didn't gravitate to it sans a lot of experimentation, which does not seem to be true for many of the more adamant fanboys i encounter. i am acutely conscious of the fact that i'm always talking about that particular yo-yo, and i'm sure there's any number of people that wish i would just shut up about it (i'm ok with that - i wish i would too, sometimes). apologies for that, and for digressing.
this blog is about questioning and self-exploration, and maybe my obsession with throwing wood is just as detrimental as what i'm trying to bring up here. i don't believe that any of the aforementioned fanboys are sitting in a dark room, twisting their fingers around like montgomery burns, scheming about how they can further divide the community. (to quote the film "zero effect", 'there aren't "good guys" and "evil guys"! it's just a bunch of GUYS!') we're all expert at justifying ourselves TO ourselves, and how does it hurt anyone to "like a yo-yo company a lot"? it doesn't, at least until it inwardly justifies your "disliking another a lot". and it doesn't actually appear to help anyone either.
this blog is kind of a soapbox, but, contrary to what i may have inadvertently puked out, i'm not trying to use it to deride any yo-yo companies. it's the people; people that seem to tote their brand loyalty around like its this massive dead weight. they're burdened and exhausted by the need to constantly rep, because in repping the company, they rep themselves. none of it has any meaning; not to them or to the whole. how do you enjoy yo-yoing like that, i wonder? how is yo-yoing "freeing" when you're perpetually mindful of the alliances and discords that are constantly fizzing on the boards like so much toxic soda? every other week there's a thread about "what's wrong with the yo-yo community"... and then immediately thereafter, there are threads composed of the most blatant self-importance, blasting this or that company for being shady or incompetent. really, what negativity in yo-yoing exists APART from the rampant poison that fuels these daily fires?
this was a tough blog to write (particularly without referencing specific people, conversations, or comments, which i'd expect anyone reading to find for themselves). obviously, the peak was just the springboard for a much greater (or lesser) idea, and i kind of wish i had used it to bounce into more positive territory (apologies, chris). it's hard to remember that all of this shit only really exists in the anonymous online vaccuum. you get to a contest and no one gives a crap what you throw, mostly. people just seem too stunned by the revelation that "damn! that guy's a human being?" to bother hating each other. we inject ourselves daily with this noxious drama, but in the end, we're still just all yo-yo nerds. (mm-hmm, you too.)
notice that i didn't talk about any crappy yo-yo's at all here (well... i don't like a lot of yomegas, but whatever). i'd gladly throw any of the brands i've brought up (and have, regularly). this particular peak is incredible, and as i said, it SHOULD be adored. clyw, yyf, duncan, one drop, whatever. it's all good stuff; all gets you there. your allegiance to this or that brand pales in comparison to your duty to the collective. would that we could realize that shit every day.
all companies "deserve" fanboys. but the community deserves more.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
how often do you pick up a yo-yo (or anything, really) and just feel struck by an outpouring of tremendous gratitude? not for "possessing" the thing, itself, but for sharing space with it for awhile; simply getting to experience it... how often does a yo-yo make you feel truly fortunate to be -even obliquely- associated with the brilliant craftsman who imagined it; breathed life into it; who took a piece of himself and his world and molded it into a plaything? ... how often do you see a yo-yo that somehow, through its aesthetic or play... just seems to make the world a little better, a little brighter? ... how often do you get to hold a yo-yo and think inwardly, "art", or allow that unspoken understanding to inform the WAY you hold it? ... how often do you pick up a yo-yo that inspires, that DARES you to try to play at a level "worthy" of it?
... how often do you, a jaded curmudgeon who looks ever backward, perceiving a world full of forgotten dignity and attention to detail, get to touch a yo-yo and be warmed by the embers of hope and excitement for the future, and immense pride in being able to witness the present?
in every sense: brilliant.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
as it happens, this is the oldest yo-yo in my collection (i don't really collect old yo-yo's).
dr. tom kuhn began making his no jive 3-in-1 yo-yo's in 1976. while this one isn't quite that old (early 80's), it does represent the fascinating era during which tom's bay area workshop/store was open. i received it from a good friend, chris hicks, at nc states last year. it's a little beat (not bad for 25+ years), but played great after a bit of tinkering.
i've been rereading "jurassic park" by michael crichton, which was my favorite book in 10th grade. i've always been really into dinosaurs and i wanted to be a paleontologist for the longest time. that said, the character i was always most "taken" with was the mathematician, ian malcolm. when i was in high school, his expansive soliloquies kind of introduced me to the concept of "responsible" science. most of his prolific monologues serve to highlight the failure of technology to control nature, and humanity's incessant compulsion to improve upon the world, not for the sake of "truth" or legitimate gain, but for "accomplishment". discovery for the sake of discovery.
reading one of his later, morphine-induced ramblings, i thought of yo-yo's and the idea of what's really "improved". it's lengthy, but i'm going to type it up anyway:
"You know what's wrong with scientific power?" Malcolm said. "It's a form of inherited wealth. And you know what assholes congenitally rich people are, It never fails."
Hammond said, "What is he talking about?"
Harding made a sign, indicating delirium. Malcolm cocked his eye.
"I'll tell you what I am talking about," he said. "Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is that you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.
"Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won't use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won't abuse it.
"But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only the get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify - it doesn't matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast.
"And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don't even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power. The buyer doesn't even conceive that any discipline might be necessary."
Hammond said, "Do you know what he is talking about?"
"I haven't a clue," Hammond said.
"I'll make it simple," Malcolm said. "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. Ad that is the kind of power that science fosters, and permits. And that is why you think that to build a place like this was simple."
"It was simple," Hammond insisted.
"Then why did it go wrong?"
not "high literature", i'll grant you. but reading that book was probably more important to the development of my world-view than any number of "classics". it's funny to me, because this passage applies to everything (certainly not just "scientific power").
how often do new yo-yoers pop up on the boards asking "which yo-yo should i get?" and from these innocent questions, how often does the debate arise as to whether a "n00b" ought to buy an unresponsive metal? there's always the side saying "get an 888! best yo-yo out there!" and then there's the side that says "get a freehand and a bunch of stickers. response will teach you good habits." neither statement is really "wrong", but the reasoning resonates with the passage above.
i've said any number of times that in the past, if you wanted to be a good yo-yoer (here meaning "if you wanted to do cool tricks well"), you had to pay for it; and not with money, but with time. you had to put in hours, months, years to be able to do anything with a yo-yo that would stop sidewalk traffic. those years naturally weed out the individuals who are of weak discipline, who aren't willing to put in the time, to whom yo-yoing really isn't all that important. it's like the monks who were required to sit outside the temple for a week before gaining entrance. if you can't take it, it's not for you.
now, anyone can learn to bind in a day and throw minute-long combos in a month. they won't "look good", but it remains that at least technically, that which was once the realm of ludicrously-impossible fantasy can now effectively be purchased. like the malcolm passage states, the danger is that the purchaser will be conned into believing that he/she has arrived at true skill without having to work for it at all. you could put a yo-yoer who's been at it 3 months on the street, tell them to do some tricks, and they could get some positive feedback, maybe even draw a crowd if they have any ability to perform. i'm not saying that's "unfair", because when i was young it was "so hard" or something. i'm saying you have to be careful not to be deceived into believing that purchased skill reflects something special about you. it does not.
you still have to put in the time, just as much as you would have if you came up throwing this archaic 3-in-1. the tricks have changed. the style has changed. the degree of skill necessary to "be perceived as good" may even have changed. but the degree of work required to "actually be legitimately good", most assuredly has not.
1932 world champion, harvey lowe just passed away. played yo-yo for around 80 years. do you believe, for a second, that because you can do "rancid milk" and he couldn't that you're a better yo-yoer than he was?
i was surprised to see how few people i've talked to even knew who he was before his death, but then, the yo-yoing community has a brief memory. 2001 is "old school". no one talks much about the old masters who traveled the country literally building the foundations of yo-yoing upon which we [ignorantly] stand today. how much do you know about where yo-yoing comes from? it's not just history. yo-yoing's place in the fabric of american culture (and so our introduction to it) didn't develop of its own accord. it sprung from the WORK of the old demonstrators. from their miles on the road, their cutting kids' strings, their monumental dedication. it's a gift, and though part of our passage has been paid for, it becomes our responsibility to appreciate the "roots" of this art.
when you've dedicated yourself to playing yo-yo for years, even when it's hard (ESPECIALLY when it's hard), your skill starts to become more valuable to you. not that you become an egomaniac, believing you're more skilled than others (in fact probably LESS so). but the discipline you developed in those years truly begins to improve your character, if you'll pardon the cliché. it makes you a better person in a way that simply being able to perform a long trick after a short while will never do. all arts are this way. NOTHING of value is easily obtained. ever.
let's look at another, shorter malcolm quote from the same book:
"What advances? Malcolm said irritably. "The number of hours women devote to housework has not changed since the 1930s, despite all the advances. All the vacuum cleaners, washer-dryers, trash compactors, garbage-disposals, wash-and-wear fabrics... Why does it still take as long to clean the house as it did in 1930?"
Ellie said nothing.
"Because there haven't been any advances," Malcolm said. "Not really. Thirty thousand years ago, when men were doing cave paintings at Lascaux, they worked twenty hours a week to provide themselves with food and shelter and clothing. The rest of the time, they could play, or sleep, or do whatever they wanted. And they lived in a natural world, with clean air, clean water, beautiful trees and sunsets. Think about it. Twenty hours a week. Thirty thousand years ago."
Ellie said, "You want to turn back the clock?"
"No," Malcolm said. "I want people to wake up."
what have the advances been in yo-yoing? sure, we have ball bearings that can spin for minutes by accident. we have recessed silicone response that enables wraps and mutations that once would have just represented effective snag recipes. our tricks are longer and more complicated. but do we really play yo-yo "better" than people did when this yo-yo was still new on the shelf of tom's workshop? has the quality of our play, our approach, or our character truly improved? are we more satisfied than we were 30 years ago? are we happier when we play? there have been advances... but do they matter?
i'm not trying to say that innovation is a bad thing. remember that the no jive 3-in-1 was, itself, tremendously innovative. but innovation has to be responsible, as do we consumers, in remembering that no matter what we are able to do now, or in 20 years, it's only the effort we put into our play that yields anything of value.
i'm also not one of those curmudgeons or jealous-types who gets irritable when they see a ten year-old with a catch-22. it doesn't matter to me what kind of yo-yo you throw at all. but it should matter to YOU. would i be happy starting off with an expensive, unresponsive metal yo-yo? no, i don't think so. i like things to be kind of hard, especially at first. it doesn't make me better than anyone else to feel that way. some people really like to have the "best stuff" out there. if buying a gold skyline as a first yo-yo will compel you to PLAY IT, then that was a better choice than a 2-sticker freehand that you'll put down in a week from frustration and knuckle-bruises. i'll never recommend an unresponsive metal to someone starting out, but if that's what they gravitate to, awesome. i'll keep playing my wood yo-yo's and be happy with that. it truly takes all kinds.
regardless of what you play, i think it's important that you recognize that you're no more of a yo-yoer than whichever kids have handed this old no-jive through the past 3 decades. all of us collectively make up the tapestry of yo-yoing, and no matter what yo-yo you want to buy, whether it's the newest, super-hyped, painted-titanium, ceramic kk'd, tour de force or a relic from a bygone era like we see here, it's still just going to be you throwing it. without you, it's a nice paperweight.
it's you that matters.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
this is just the yo-yo i happened to pick up. it's a great yo-yo, and i love the color (which is in some way relevant to the topic i have in mind). i got it from a friend (mike salcito) last week at an nc yo-yo meet. i traded him a green monster skyline, which i will not pretend that i'm not going to miss. this is a blood-red 888. mike said it was only available in europe (but i wouldn't know anyhow). the 888 is cool because, to my mind, it really "takes no prisoners". it was designed to set a new standard for consistent, progressive play, and that's exactly what it did.
i'm also typing this on my wife's laptop, and holy hell... she has a way better keyboard than i do. holy hell.
anyway... this morning, in lieu of my normal zazen ritual, i yanked out my shinken (or katana if you prefer, a japanese sword) for a much needed iaido practice. i'm embarrassed to admit that it had been months. i dusted off my blue keikogi and black hakama (which, it could be argued, makes me look like a bit of a girl - it's not a dress... it's pleated PANTS, dammit!) and i headed out to the spot behind my house where i like to practice. it's a warm day, and the birds are singing again. (for frame of reference, here's an old video me doing some iai in said spot: http://www.vimeo.com/1786917 )
iaido is the ceremonial, ritualistic, japanese martial art associated with handling the long sword. i say "handling" because the more you do it, the more you come to realize that every moment of carrying it is incorporated into the art, even prior to getting on the mat. most people would associate it with "drawing the sword", but that only represents a splinter of its function and true nature. iaido is one of the budo (ways of war), and that "do" character specifies not just a "method", but a true life "path". there's a lot to pay attention to.
in practice, iaido contains a great deal of ritual in terms of taking care of/respecting the sword, wearing the sword in a very specific way, drawing the sword from its saya (scabbard), performing one or more cuts against an opponent (which you have to visualize), and returning the sword to your side.
since it's really just you alone (unless you're in a group practice, which i really never do anymore), your brain is positively inundated by each misstep and mistake. although i've trained in iaido for over a decade (shit, i'm old), i usually feel like a bit of a failure when i practice. unlike aikido, the other japanese art that i practice, there most definitely IS a right and wrong way to do iaido. granted, each instructor may differ on the finer points, but the hallmark of iai is the fact that it's guided by an ideal. since it's not an application-based art (no one carries swords these days), it's all about studying and retaining the traditions of japanese swordsmanship. one might argue "what's the use in that if you can't use it on the street?", but practicing iaido requires a lot of dedication and discipline, both mental and physical. it teaches you how to command your body and mind to a level of attention that many martial arts ignore. though you'll never use the techniques of iaido in a fight, the awareness and understanding of life and death that it espouses help to ensure that you'll be able to avoid or defuse one.
iai is broken into different kata (forms). each school has their own set that have been handed down from teacher to student, in many cases directly from origins in feudal japan. as in all martial arts, there are tons of fakers and phonies, and if you aren't able to separate them from the legitimate sources, then on some level, you deserve what you get. although the style i trained in has a fancy name, "muso-shinden ryu iaido", and i've practiced the kata of that style, i mostly stick with the setei kata now, which are a set of basic techniques that many different schools have agreed on, which utilize and represent aspects of each tradition. learning a kata is a lot like learning a yo-yo trick. you have to break it down into its elements and reference points. you have to repeat it over and over in order to get anything meaningful out of it. you oscillate between periods of being totally exhilerated by it and totally bored with it, but after awhile, it kind of becomes a part of you.
when i practice, i like to do all of the setei kata 3 or 4 times each, and then pick one or two from the muso-shinden ryu catalog to focus on. some of them start standing, some start on your knees in seiza, and some start in the often-excruciating battle-armor-half-knee stance, tate-hiza. after training today, i got to thinking about yo-yoing and how it relates to this martial tradition. yoyoing has its own "kata" in the standardized tricks that we do. the sport ladder trick-list that's a staple of any yo-yo contest gives examples of tricks that have been deemed to be "important". their presence on the list identifies them as tricks that yo-yoers "ought to know". a key difference between the martial arts and yo-yoing is that you don't NEED to conform to any specific trick-ideals to be a good yo-yoer. lots of highly respected yoyoers couldn't find their way through the ladder (certainly not in 2a). as a martial artist in virtually any tradition, you absolutely have to work your way "up" through a set of techniques, and as you progress, you remain duty-bound to retain them. that's the standard format for the dissemination of knowledge. as the budding warrior makes his way through the kata and waza (technique), he develops in two ways. 1.) he learns the full scope of the material that makes up his art and 2.) he builds the discipline to use his art appropriately.
yo-yoing has none of that stuff, really. in the budo, what force "regulates" the students? it's really a 3-pronged attack. the student is regulated by the teacher, by his/her peers, and by the grueling art itself. if you want to study a martial art that's worth anything, those 3 guiding lights will, at some point, need to beat some respect into you. if learning an art just amounted to walking up to some benevolent "master", forking over a thousand bucks and receiving your own teaching license and crisp black belt (sadly there are schools that effectively DO this), what would it be worth, really? it's not just "going through the motions". in truth, "going through the motions" is what ends up building your character as a martial artist and as a person.
is there any regulatory force in yoyoing? awhile ago, if you wanted to freestyle at a big contest, you had to do "compulsories". these were kind of like a ladder on steroids, wherein you had to perform a series of tricks of incremental difficulty, and were judged not just on whether you completed them, but HOW. it was a lot like being judged for a dan exam. the highest compulsory scores moved on to freestyles. now that the days of compulsories are no more (and i'm not arguing that's a bad thing), you never need to demonstrate "canon" as a yo-yoer. the forums have become the primary regulating force of the community, usually dispensing half-baked judgment on videos, new yo-yo's, and players. yo-yoing is a very free and experimental art form, and no standards are perceived to be required. in any case, when you practice yo-yoing, you don't repeat the same sequence of tricks (unless you're practicing for a contest). and i certainly can't imagine an iaido practitioner just jumping around freely through various kata and waza. it would be feel more like a dance or jam session; more like yo-yoing.
also, how many samurai owned 50+ swords? even today, an earnest iaido/kendo/batto-do practitioner would typically own one, or at most, very few swords. they're expensive ($5k+ for the real deal from japan), and of course... how many do you need? sure there are a plenty of sword collectors out there, but in my experience, not many of them are really practitioners. i've known a lot of iaidoka, many of whom are very serious about their art, but i've probably only known a handful that have more than 3 swords, and one of them imports swords for a living. yo-yo's are comparatively cheap, and kids can buy a lot of them. this blog is evidence that i have many myself. but in owning many, do you begin to dillute your approach to any one of them? that is to say, in owning 100 yo-yo's, is it really possible for me to fully invest myself in a single one, and use it to express my clearest self? to a samurai, the shinken was a manifestation of the soul. if i own 100 yo-yo's, has my soul been cut into 100 fragments like something out of harry potter? i only have one japanese sword (well, and another i received as a gift from my sensei, but that one's a "wall-hanger"), and i treat it like its a family member. even when i go through a stretch without practicing with it, i take it out to oil it (or mabe just to look upon it). having just one of something really instills a familiarity and a sense of caring or appreciation for it. not judging at all; just stating a pronounced difference.
the most obvious difference though, lies in the fact that, contrary to SO many ill-informed perpetuators of the urban myth, no one ever killed anybody with a yo-yo. when you pick up a shinken, which is basically a 3-foot razor blade, you can't help but feel a little awed; by its history or by its grim and blatant functionality. swords are for killing people. anyone who says otherwise is twisting (and thus, disrespecting) the "nature of the beast". when you pick up a yo-yo, you pick it up as a toy, or if you're really serious about it, as a tool for self-discovery. who picks up a yo-yo with reverance? who does so with serious presence of mind and with intent? i'm not saying you need to hold your yo-yo like your going to slay samurai with it, but... in a sense... well, maybe you should.
one of the things the martial arts teach us to do is to approach EVERY aspect of our lives with intent; with abandon. there are no useless, trivial moments. so when we pick up the sword, there are rules for picking it up. rules for carrying it, walking with it, bowing to it. how long do i bow? what should the inclination of the head be? where should my hands be when i'm holding it at my side? how should i carry it through a doorway? these rules and details were born of the fact that swordsmanship is about TAKING LIFE. it's a serious deal, and a little bit of disrespect or careless ignorance can be fatal. even now, as a "way", it's about taking your own life to an extent; about extinguishing our own inherently selfish preconceptions. not only are there no standards for things like lifting a yo-yo from its spot in your case or tying the slipknot, but virtually no one even considers those "incidental" moments with any presence.
so how are they similar, if at all? easy.
within each, the ideal remains both wonderfully, beautifully unattainable.
think of a yo-yo trick you can do perfectly. perfect. textbook. every time. if you have an answer to that question, i honestly feel kind of bad for you. where else have you to go with that trick?
one of the most beautiful elements of yo-yoing is the fact that there is ALWAYS a way to refine your own technique. ALWAYS a way to refine your own attitude or performance. the very idea of perfection becomes paradoxical. the only thing that's perfect is the MOMENT... THIS moment. that's absolutely true of iaido as well. in a sense, no one has ever performed an iai kata perfectly. sure there are masters who are far beyond my ability to critique, but perfection? no way. and no thanks.
the greatest martial artists are just like heliotropic flowers that slowly bend toward the light. they are guided by the sun, but never will they reach it. even our "sleepers" should be treated this way. and i'm not saying we go around bitching about how imperfectly awful we are either. it's not about self-deprecation. it's wonderful, because when you realize that there IS no end to the journey; no goal aside from playing fully within the moment, we can really recognize that the PRACTICE is the goal, itself. why am i practicing yo-yo? to gain respect in the community? to win worlds? to get sponsored? no (apologies, and perhaps an uncontrollable surge of pity to those of you who say "yes"). i'm practicing because i'm practicing. it's how i want to experience this moment, which is bigger than the community, more epic than worlds, and more sacred than any sponsorship. and although i'll learn some tricks and invent some others, i'm gratified to know that i'm not truly capable of experiencing the full breadth of any one of them.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
once upon a time, i saw the yo-yo world as existing primarily within 3 big store-owned forums.
the biggest and most popular was certainly yoyoing.com/news, which had been active since 1997 and, despite a single-page format seemed to feature the liveliest debates from the brightest of yo-yoing's luminaries. next in size and scope came the skilltoys forum. run by david hall, and now a historical fact, this multifaceted jewel sported perks like a cool photo gallery, shoutbox, and multiple forums, but always seemed plagued by a plethora of aggro yo-yoers (which is about as natural as an oral bowel movement) who seemed to go out of their way to lower the average IQ of the board by 30 (it wasn't all that bad, and i kinda miss it).
the third was extreme spin.
now before you interject and remind me about theyo or yoyonation, this is about how I saw the yo-yo world... i went to theyo like twice when i was just sorting out the forums, and i just wasn't impressed. it didn't seem like anyone was saying anything interesting, so i ceased to check it. it did not exist in my world-view, and to this day i view the folks who came up exclusively within theyo as a kind of interdimensional anomoly... like bizzaro-superman or something. and yoyonation didn't even exist. it's always funny when the yyn guys get all misty, saying "i remember the good ol' days before all the acid-tounged noobs came with there negativity"... that was like a year ago! the yyn board has really only been fully (or at least mostly) toxic now for a matter of months! the turnover on that board is incredible.
anyway, extreme spin was an actual store when i joined the board (in may 05?), run by rich rains in the chicago area. the forum was positively miniscule in comparison with the others, but with its small size came a pleasant side-effect. it was like a family. a lot of the guys knew each other through the extreme spin team (on of the few teams you could "apply for") or from the store's illinois environs. as a random nc yo-yo player, i kind of felt as though i had wandered into a biker bar where i didn't belong... except since the bikers were all actually yo-yo nerds, big deal.
people were friendly. the posts seemed meaningful. tommy gun, the admin (rich virtually never posted), ran a tight ship with cool mods, but the general population didn't seem to need a lot of censorship. it was just a pleasant place to discuss yo-yoing, and i was always amazed by the degree to which it was overlooked. it had its share of idiots for sure, but most of said idiots ended up leaving because they were policed by the board's more sensible population, as opposed to being banned.
around this time, rich commissioned two subsequent "extreme spin edition" duncan freehand zeros. the zero was (and arguably still is) one of the coolest, most popular yo-yo's on the planet. the es zeros were nifty because they sported a "bionic" silver body. i'm not an expert (and correct me if i'm wrong), but i'm pretty sure these were the only bionic zeros (es i know there were bionic fh1's).
anyway, i hated them. so although i kept the cool black-on-silver caps, i traded the stock silver body for a recessed black one at va states 06, and i was happy... till i tried to put said caps on a red zero and i blasted the axle straight through one. it was too bad, too, because although one of the caps said "extreme spin", the other one just had a silver "duncan" logo, which was unique... and that of course was the one i busted. i may have actually broken the other one in rage.
anyway, a few years passed, and yyn came on the scene in a HUGE way. everyone who was anyone was taking their conversations there, and pat really made it feel like something special was happening; like a revolution without the inconvenience of an actual revolution. rich and the es store took a giant hit (as did skilltoys and i assume, yoyoguy). rich ended up closing the store indefinitely, without any explanation to the board (or from what i understand, the team). i assumed that es was dead and buried right there, but tommy decided to keep the board open on his own. it had become tight-knit; a dedicated core of friends surrounded by a small envelope of the standard evolving come-and-go crowd that typifies any yo-yo board.
the es board is cool, in part because it sports a few features most yo-yo boards don't possess. for one, there's a highly evolved "rep" system that allows you to congratulate members on insightful or constructive posts and chastise them for dumbassery. you're not supposed to sign your rep (it's supposed to be anonymous), but a lot of people do.
additionally, es features "categories" that members can be filed into. when steve brown posts there (hasn't in like a ear i'm sure), he does so as an "industry pro" with a cute little orange banner under his name. guys like seth peterson or nate weddle get a little "company rep" banner. it's neat because it offers one more way for new folks to get a sense for who they're talking to. the first time i ever saw the green "trusted" banner, it was takeshi. everyone loves takeshi, and why shouldn't they? there are plenty of national yo-yo masters now, but takeshi's the one dude i think could get elected "national yo-yo saint". the first time i saw him post on es, it was to give away a recessed mosquito to the 1st person to correctly guess his hair length in inches (36'). sometime in 07, the mods decided to give a ton of the old posters the "trusted" banner. it was meaningless really, but it was kinda cool, too. and i liked the color green.
at some point, i was approached about being a "supermod". although i didn't really have a sense for what this entailed, i kind of rejected it out of hand. one of my aikido sensei's used to tell me that his highest ambition in aikido was to reach blue belt (a low-middle rank you get after a few years). when i asked him why, he said "you know enough to have fun, but not so much that anyone really expects anything out of you. you can still surprise people with your skill). he's a good instructor, so i'm glad that didn't work out for him (he's a 4th degree black belt now). i sort of felt like that about being a mod. i liked being trusted, because it seemed to give people the sense that i wasn't a total waste, but i had no pesky responsibility. so i refused.
and they made me one anyway, which was strange.
i know a lot of people probably felt like i shouldn't have been made a mod; that there were better choices, and i don't really disagree. on the other side of it though, i kind of dig it, and not for the expected "power-tripping" reasons. since i've had some responsibility for the es community thrust upon me (albeit unwanted), i actually feel more invested in it than ever. i don't want it to go away. over the past few weeks, i actually sought out and acquired a pair of es zeros (well one es zero and one set of caps). due to nostalgia, i don't find the bionic all that atrocious anymore. and it plays pretty well stock, which is how i think i'll keep it. from my pal mike, i also scored one of the worlds 07 transitional zeros (dual sticker-recessed). i was super-amped because it's one of the "sword of destiny" ones that sports a fiery "blade" at one of the injection sites in the plastic. i snapped my spare es caps in there and have been rocking it daily.
i think i've probably only used my newfound supermod powers a handful of times at this point, but it's pretty irrelevant (and indicative of how well-balanced the group is anyway). it's made me appreciate how kind, bizarre, and fascinating the core group at that forum has always been. because it's so small and friendly, it's easy to forget that pretty much none of these people have anything much in common... but for the little "retro-winding double-knob toy" that we all seem to love...
and that's quite enough.
Monday, March 2, 2009
so these will be quick (which is appropriate).
i love yyf f.a.s.t. 201's. since the 1st one i bought on clearance at a target circa 2005 (for $1.88!), i've found them to be totally surprising in their near-unlimited potential. stock, they represent (imo), the most perfectly conceived/executed "absolute beginner yo-yo", and with a 5-minute mod, i don't know any tricks that they can't perform with ease and grace. nice shape, nice weight, totally take-apart, and the old stock can still be found for under $5 at some stores.
for years, i taught school kids how to yo-yo. in planning which yo-yo's to distribute and use, i amassed something of an "arsenal" of beginner throws, allowing kids plenty of options while starting out. aside from 201's, my school case contained big bens, lyn furys, freehand 2's, mosquitos, raiders, and eventually the yyf precedents. as the kids and became more invested in the class, a daily race to be the first in the class (and so have first pick of the yo-yo's) developed. inevitably, all of the 201's went first, and since the class only had four, the fifth person in line was inevitably the most disappointed. it was funny to me, but it kind of made sense. the 201's didn't sleep as well as their big-bearing yyj peers, but their response was much more consistent, and when you're just starting, an unresponsive yo-yo can be downright frustrating. they weren't as smooth as the duncans, with their machine-gun-loud "active response", but they didn't snag randomly either, as newbies frequently experience with aggressive stickers. the 201's offered the steepest learning curve, and were justifiably sought after.
i liked them too. playing them stock is a great exercise for improving smoothness, and although they're noisy, they have unexpectedly impressive potential, even unmodded. that said, i do prefer to perform a ridiculously short mod on the ones i play regularly. these two 201's feature a super-quick mod i use to take a stock 201 into the realm that an experienced played will appreciate. if you're actually good at yo-yo, i'm sorry... but you SHOULD be able to rock the hell out of a totally stock, out of the package 201. (just throwing that out there.) but i do find that this mod makes them eaven more fun.
the red one appears stock, but i've actually integrated another of yoyofactory's recent innovations, which works just as well on a 201 for 1a as it does on the popular loop 720's. essentially, all i've done is popped the caps, removed all of plastic the "active-response" nubs (they twist off with a light pinch). through the eight holes that accommodate said nubs, i've woven some poly string through, resulting in a raised "string-on-string" response area. since i've never been a fan of the unwieldy 201 bearing/spacer setup (or of adjustable gap), i replace it with the standard duncan mosquito/bumblebee guts, which fits perfectly and creates a nice gap. put it all back together with a poly string, and you;re good to go. total mod time here: 04:37
pretty much the same deal on the black one, only here i used a dremel to do a super-rushed "ghetto-recess" (literally carving the recess out). this is not the ideal way to do a recess, but with string-on-string, there's really no need to do it super clean, and i was kind of going for speed. i did spin the yo-yo on the dremel for a sec though, just to apply a light 440 satin. the same cap-popping, response-removal applied, and i repeated the string-on-string bit in the newly recessed area. easy. i actually had some minutes left on the stopwatch, so i cut out a pair of playing card inserts and replaced the stock pogs (which do have their own appeal, i guess). could a more elegant mod be done to a 201? of course! they're probably the most easily modified yo-yo on the market. but my total time with this one is nothing to sneeze at: 08:48
obviously, a sticker-mod would speed things up even more, since it does take a minute or so to thread in the string, but i've actually come to prefer the way s.o.s. plays. both of these mods handled rancid milk and pure 143 on the first 2 throws. (i'll grant you i had to relearn the former in order to test them.)
these are great yo-yo's, and a lot of times people seem to look at them as though they're somehow below-standard, either due to their modest price-point or their beginner-friendly stock setup. the fact is that they can be taken from novice-friendly to the stratosphere in virtually no time at all (much less work than it would take to silicone a zero, for example). i feel that they remain among the best things that yyf has done, especially given their wide availability. i'd LOVE to see them back in toy stores again. maybe they'd need to be redressed a bit to gain more popularit in the community. how cool would it be if yyf asked its contest team to collaborate in a series of "customized" 201 mods? who wouldn't buy a 201 set up to miggy's specs? or yuuki's? or augie's? they'd sell like baseball cards.
anyway, great little plastic yo-yo. too often overlooked.